Scientists shoot carbon nanotubes out of high-speed gun (w/ video)

Jun 23, 2014 by Lisa Zyga feature
Combined images generated using molecular dynamics simulations (left) and TEM images (right) after impact at different impact angles. Credit: Ozden, et al. ©2014 American Chemical Society

( —What happens when you shoot multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) out of a gun onto an aluminum target at a velocity of more than 15,000 mph? Scientists finally have the answer. If a nanotube reaches the target at a 90° angle (head-on), it will break and deform quite drastically. However, if it is parallel to the target upon impact, the nanotube will unzip, resulting in a 2D graphene nanoribbon. This observation is unexpected, since previous simulations have shown that nanotubes break into pieces when subjected to large mechanical forces.

Researchers Sehmus Ozden, et al., at Rice University in Houston, Texas, US; the State University of Campinas in Campinas, Brazil; and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, have published a paper on the results of their high-impact nanotube collision experiments in a recent issue of Nano Letters.

In their study, the researchers packed MWCNTs as pellets into the vacuum chamber of a light gas gun, a device that is commonly used for hypervelocity impact experiments. The pellets were composed of mostly nonoriented MWCNT bundles, with each pellet having a spherical shape.

Because it was not possible to directly observe the impact due to the nanotubes' small size and high speed, the researchers analyzed the differences in the nanotubes using a transmission electron microscope before and after the impact to extract useful information about what occurs during impact. They also performed molecular dynamics simulations to better understand the effect of the impact.

Although each bundle of nanotubes (the pellet) was shot perpendicular to the target, the individual randomly aligned nanotubes impacted the target at different angles. The researchers found that the impact angle has a large effect on the results of the collision. At a 90° impact angle, the nanotubes deformed along the radial direction, essentially being smashed like the front of a car in a head-on collision. At a 45° impact angle, the nanotubes became partly deformed and partly unzipped.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Molecular dynamics simulation showing the unzipping of a multi-walled carbon nanotube. Credit: Ozden, et al. ©2014 American Chemical Society

At a 0° angle, the nanotubes were completely unzipped when shot at the aluminum target. The researchers explain that the unzipping occurs on the scale of femtoseconds. In that short time, many atoms along the side of the nanotube become stressed due to the impact, resulting in the breaking of the carbon bonds in a straight line along the side of the nanotube.

Scheme for the experimental approach in which randomly aligned carbon nanotubes are shot from a gun at high velocity onto a solid target, and the resulting structures after impact. Credit: Ozden, et al. ©2014 American Chemical Society

At the 90° and 45° impact angles, on the other hand, fewer atoms were involved in the impact, so the stress was more concentrated on fewer atoms. Many of these atoms ended up being ejected from the nanotube, rather than having their bonds neatly broken as in the 0° impact angle scenario.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Molecular dynamics simulation showing the unzipping of a multi-walled carbon nanotube from a different perspective. Credit: Ozden, et al. ©2014 American Chemical Society

Unzipping carbon nanotubes to create 2D is very useful in nanoscience, but until now it has typically been achieved with chemical contaminants that leave back contaminants. By demonstrating for the first time that nanotubes can be quickly unzipped through mechanical means, the new study offers a "clean-cut"—a clean, chemical-free way to produce high-quality graphene nanoribbons. As the researchers explained, graphene nanoribbons have certain advantages over both nanotubes and graphene that make them attractive for applications.

"Graphene nanoribbons are good candidates for active materials in electronics, being the channel of field-effect transistors," coauthor Dr. Robert Vajtai at Rice University told "They are superior to carbon , as their bandgap is more predictable. Also, they are superior to graphene itself as graphene has no bandgap, but making a nanometer-scale narrow stripe of it opens the bandgap because of quantum confinement, so it is a semiconductor."

Explore further: Hybrid nanotube-graphene material promises to simplify manufacturing

More information: Sehmus Ozden, et al. "Unzipping Carbon Nanotubes at High Impact." Nano Letters. DOI: 10.1021/nl501753n

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Video: Nanoengineered electron guns

Jun 20, 2014

In this video we see an electron gun made of many thousands of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, each more than 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Dr Matt Cole, from the University of Cambridge, explains ...

Hydrogen opens the road to graphene ... and graphane

May 09, 2011

( -- An international research team has discovered a new method to produce belts of graphene called nanoribbons. By using hydrogen, they have managed to unzip single-walled carbon nanotubes. The ...

Unzipping Carbon Nanotubes Can Make Graphene Ribbons

Apr 20, 2009

( -- By "unzipping" carbon nanotubes, researchers have shown how to make flat graphene ribbons. Graphene, which is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon that looks like chicken wire, has unique electrical ...

Recommended for you

The latest fashion: Graphene edges can be tailor-made

Jan 23, 2015

Theoretical physicists at Rice University are living on the edge as they study the astounding properties of graphene. In a new study, they figure out how researchers can fracture graphene nanoribbons to get ...

Nanotechnology changes behavior of materials

Jan 23, 2015

One of the reasons solar cells are not used more widely is cost—the materials used to make them most efficient are expensive. Engineers are exploring ways to print solar cells from inks, but the devices ...

Gold 'nano-drills'

Jan 22, 2015

Spherical gold particles are able to 'drill' a nano-diameter tunnel in ceramic material when heated. This is an easy and attractive way to equip chips with nanopores for DNA analysis, for example. Nanotechnologists ...

The importance of building small things

Jan 22, 2015

Strong materials, such as concrete, are usually heavy, and lightweight materials, such as rubber (for latex gloves) and paper, are usually weak and susceptible to tearing and damage. Julia R. Greer, professor ...

Graphene brings quantum effects to electronic circuits

Jan 22, 2015

Research by scientists attached to the EC's Graphene Flagship has revealed a superfluid phase in ultra-low temperature 2D materials, creating the potential for electronic devices which dissipate very little ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.